ROWLAND — The play was just to get the ball to the front court as quick as possible and try to get a clean look.
St. Pauls boys basketball coach Corey Thompson knew it was going to take something quick in the final nine seconds of his team’s game at South Robeson on Tuesday night to stave off overtime and come away with its second conference win, and his sophomore guards delivered.
“When I realized how much time was on the clock, I just told them that they had to catch it and their instincts had to kick in,” Thompson said. “Once we got past their initial press, we just looked to attack. … I just wanted one of my guards to get it.”
Sophomore Emonta Smith got through the Mustangs’ full-court pressure, dumped the ball off to fellow sophomore guard Caleb Henderson on the wing who drove to the left elbow, pulled up and drained the game-winner for the Bulldogs in their 45-43 road win as time expired.
“We set it up as a different play and it went the other way and fell into my hands,” Henderson said. “I just had to do what I do. I was ready to take it. I was wanting it to come to me.”
The bucket, the two biggest points for Henderson in the game, was two of his 10 points in the second half as St. Pauls (3-2, 2-0 TRC) built an eight-point lead in the early moments of the fourth quarter, only to see South Robeson (0-2, 0-2 TRC) storm back over the final four minutes to tie the game on a Cameron Werrell 3-pointer from the right wing with nine seconds left.
It was the defense of Bulldogs, coupled with the fatigue of the Mustangs allowed a one-point St. Pauls lead at halftime to swell to a 41-33 lead with less than four minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
“I really challenged them at the half that we needed to do a better job of dominating on the pressure and in the full court,” Thompson said.
While the defense was doing its job, Henderson was finding his rhythm on the offensive side. After his older brother Ted McNeill and older cousin J.J. Oxendine anchored the backcourt for the Bulldogs in years past, it was his turn to lead St. Pauls and did it when it mattered most.
“Coach talked about how we struggled in the first half and he told us in the second half to do better and we came out with some good results,” Henderson said.
In the first half, it was the pressure defense from the Mustangs that gave the young backcourt from St. Pauls fits. South Robeson’s full-court defense, coupled with its size helped it take a 10-6 lead after the first quarter and hold onto the lead for much of the first half before a late spurt.
“We have grown since last week. We’ve got to learn our containment a little better,” South Robeson coach Ryan Bullard said. “I think that will make a difference too and our guys have to work on rotating back. Other than that, I’m proud of my guys.”
Leading the way for the Mustangs was Werrell with 21 points, 13 of which came in the second half.
St. Pauls’ scoring came from Henderson with 12 points, Smith with 12 points and Sean McNeil with 10 points.
The Bulldogs travel to Fairmont on Friday and South Robeson hits the road to Whiteville.
St. Pauls girls continue improvement in win over South Robeson
It was the mission that St. Pauls girls basketball coach Mike Moses set up when he was hired, and Tuesday’s 47-35 marked a couple milestones for the Lady Bulldogs.
In the win over South Robeson, St. Pauls (3-2, 2-0 TRC) matched last year’s win total and improved to 2-0 in conference play for the first time since the 2013-2014 season.
“The effort and hard work is making the transition a lot easier,” Moses said. “I said from the jump we were going to work and they are more disciplined and are buying into the system, which I am thankful for.”
South Robeson (0-2, 0-2 TRC) was held to one point in the opening period in large part to the full-court pressure from the Lady Bulldogs.
“I come from a pressing background. When I put the press it, it always takes some time,” Moses said. “I’ve been spending time on what we need to work on and we spend 30 to 45 minutes a day on our press and they are finally getting it.”
Leading the way for St. Pauls in the win was T.J. Eichelberger with 22 points. South Robeson’s Nytia Lewis and Tellia Page each had eight points.
Fairmont cruises past Lady Vikings
FAIRMONT — The Fairmont girls basketball team pulled out a 57-38 win at home over West Columbus on Tuesday.
Kiara Page tallied a double-double with 27 points and 14 rebounds for Fairmont, along with Jufaye Williams with 10 points and 17 rebounds. The Lady Tornadoes got 15 points from Krishay Moore.
West Columbus’ Annela Tiffany had 15 points.
The Lady Tornadoes outscored West Columbus 32-15 in the second half.
In the boys game, West Columbus had a 24-21 lead on Fairmont with 3:34 left in the second quarter when the clock stopped working, postponing the contest. No makeup date has been determined.
Red Springs sweeps Knights
RED SPRINGS — The Red Springs boys basketball team used a big first quarter to take a 76-62 win at home over West Bladen.
The Red Devils scored 24 first-quarter points in the victory. Monte’ Wilkerson had 21 points, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals for Red Springs, while Caleel Mitchell added 17 points and four assists. In the post, Jerome Bass had 12 points and nine rebounds.
Shyron Adams had 19 points to lead West Bladen.
The Red Springs girls topped West Bladen 48-42.
In other county basketball action, Richmond swept Purnell Swett in Rockingham. The boys game went in favor of the Raiders, 77-65, with Kyler Page scoring 30 points for the Rams and Darriante Parker had 15 points. In the girls game, Richmond won 59-39.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.